Movie review: Wind River

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from all the summer blockbusters of varying quality and give a chance to the dying genre of the regular movie. This is the review of Wind River.

IMDb summary: An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a thriller, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people, but cinephiles should know him for writing two recent marvelous pictures that both had some awards potential – 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. While Sheridan didn’t direct any of his previous scripts (Sicario was done by Villeneuve, and Hell or High Water by Mckenzie), he does have some directing experience, having helmed 2011’s horror film, Vile. Wind River is being distributed by the awards whisperers The Weinstein Company. Their involvement combined with Sheridan’s previous track record might actually give Wind River a chance to make some ways during the proper awards season. More importantly, the film highly deserves that.

Writing

Sheridan, similarly to his previous movies, has written a story that’s both thrilling and entertaining but is also thematically clever. Wind River, a film inspired by true events, is set on a Native American reservoir and the first victim of a crime is a young Native American woman. The local police are not equipped to solve the mystery, while FBI is also not willing to pay a lot of attention. This fictionalized account goes very much in line with the real life events (so, ‘inspired by true events’ sentence is accurate). As an anthropology student, I have studied a few cases of Native American women going missing in the north of North America and the local authorities doing nothing to find them (in class, we mostly focused on cases in Canada but the film’s Wyoming’s case was very similar). Wind River’s story at least had a somewhat happy ending and some closure, however, that’s usually not the case in real life. So, it was really nice for a film to end with a sentence about the statistics of missing Native women –  a call to action, even if it will probably go unheard.

The depictions of the reservoir life seemed quite accurate. The problems within a Native American community – the drugs and substance abuse, poverty, the loss of identity and the marginalization – were all mentioned. The relationship between the white Americans and the Native Americans was represented in a variety of ways. The viewers saw both a friendly relationship of a white man being, more or less, a member of a community and an outsider white American being seen as a hostile stranger (at least in the beginning). Lastly, even though some of the ideas and relationships in the film could be seen as very specific and having a limited crossover, the overarching themes of the picture were survival and family – two extremely universal concepts that are understood across all cultures.

I have mentioned the historical facts as well as topics of the movie, let’s now turn our attention to the actual detective story. To begin with, I found it refreshing to see an FBI agent and a local hunter working together and listening to one another, rather than competing to reach the same goal. It was also nice to see a completely professional relationship without any pushed romance being depicted. The reveal of who the criminals were – 5 white, less than bright, drunk men from a working class background – was maybe a bit disappointing at first but, on a second viewing, very much grounded and realistic. Plus, the scene that followed the reveal – the rapid shoot-out – was unexpected in the best way possible and also oddly satisfying.

Directing

While Sheridan’s directing style wasn’t groundbreaking, it was still good in its subtlety. His direction for the picture was mostly elevated by his own amazing writing. Visually, the film looked nice – the sweeping shots of the mountains and snow were naturally gorgeous, while the sequence of the snowmobile action added an element of effortless coolness. The pacing was very good too – the film was constantly building to a crescendo and also delivered on it. Wind River was definitely a great effort from a sort of new director.

Acting

At the center of Wind River, two Marvel stars were reunited – Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both did a magnificent job. It was nice to see Renner continuing his indie/awards career alongside his blockbuster-focused one (he was just recently in Arrival in addition to Civil War, MI5, and Age of Ultron). Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) has really come into her own as an actress and is probably now more famous (acting-wise) than her older sisters.

The supporting cast, thankfully, provided an opportunity for some Native American/First Nations talent to shine, like Gil Birmingham (he was also in Hell or High Water), Julia JonesGraham Greene, and Martin Sensmeier. Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Accountant, We Are Your Friends) also appeared in the film, reuniting with Sheridan, after having worked on Sicario with him. 

In short, Wind River is an emotional, smart, and entertaining thriller that deserves more recognition that it will probably get.

Rate: 4.4/5

Trailer: Wind River trailer

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Movie review: The Magnificent Seven

Movie reviews

Hello!

After reviewing a contemporary Western last week (Hell or High Water), today, I turn my attention to the one set in the past – 19th century’s Wild West, to be specific. Let’s discuss The Magnificent Seven.

IMDb summary: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor  village against savage thieves.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, in terms of both the name and the plot, reminds me of a different recent Western from another accomplished director – of course, I’m talking about Tarantino’s The Hateful EightSadly, that awful Adam Sandler movie The Ridiculous Six also sneaks into my mind. What is up with these names, Hollywood?

2016’s The Magnificient Seven is a remake of the 1960s movie with the same (which, in turn, was a remake of a 1954 Japanese picture Seven Samurai – haven’t seen either of them but plan on watching both). Weirdly, it is not getting almost any hate in comparison to the recent Ben-Hur movie, which was also a remake of the 60s classic. Maybe who is involved in front and behind the camera has something to do with it – Seven has a lot more big name talent attached to it than Ben-Hur.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing: story and character development

The Magnificent Seven’s screenplay was written by an interesting duo: Nic Pizzolatto – the creator of True Detective – and Richard Wenk – writer of such mediocre-ish films like The Expendables 2 and The Mechanic and some better flicks, like his previous collaboration with FuquaThe Equalizer (he is writing that film’s sequel as well). Wenk has also penned Jack Reacher: Never Go Back script – that picture is coming out next month.

I quite enjoyed the story they created for this movie. The narrative was a bit by-the-numbers and predictable – Westerns all tend to have a similar plot – but it was executed quite well. The set-up was clear and efficient and the unfolding resolution worked as well. The movie was a bit uneven in that it had some filler material in between the action pieces. Some of that material was interesting, other – less so, but it was worth to sit through because the action sequences were amazing. I also liked the fact that the story had real consequences and not everyone lived happily ever after when it was all said and done.

The character development was also sufficient. I feared that due to a big number of characters, The Magnificent Seven would suffer from the same thing that undercut Suicide Squad’s success, however, I felt that Pizzolatto and Wenk provided all the characters with a lot more moments of personal development than Ayer did for DC anti-heroes. Some characters could have been developed more – there is always room for improvement – but I felt that the things we did get worked better than I expected them too. In general, all the main heroes of the film were not good people but the screenwriters did make them likable and did made believe that these 7 people could bond in a fairly short amount of time.

Denzel Washington’s and Chris Pratt’s characters received the most scenes. Denzel’s character was nicely set-up as the leader and his personal agenda was quite a neat surprise at the end. Pratt’s character’s role as the prankster of the group was cool – his jokes and comic relief helped to ease the tension. The two characters that were the most compelling to me were played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee – I liked their comradeship and backstory and I also felt that they had the best dialogues. Hawke’s character’s paranoia and war guilt was really fascinating part of the film, although, his actions at the end (leaving and coming back) were quite predictable, but I guess this type of character arc (fighting one’s inner guilt) has to end in that particular way.  Vincent D’Onofrio’sManuel Garcia-Rulfo’s and Martin Sensmeier’s characters were a bit one-dimensional (the weird outcast, the Mexican, and the Native American) but they did serve their purpose and nicely rounded up the group.

The writing for the main villain of the film was good too – I liked the fact that he was a corrupt businessman, who took the ideas of capitalism a bit too close to heart. The main (and only, really) female character also had a nice story of revenge/righteousness and I especially liked the detail that she was an active member of the fight, not just a damsel in distress.

Directing: visuals and action

Antoine Fuqua is an accomplished director in Hollywood, though he hasn’t made than many films. The Magnificent Seven is his 11th feature film (though other prominent Hollywood directors have made even less – Tarantino have only released 8, while Nolan – 9 pictures, so I guess quality and talent are way more important than quantity when it comes to directing). My favorite Fuqua’s films are King Arthur and Southpaw, while The Magnificent Seven is taking the 3rd spot. I really liked all the action – both the shoot-outs on the ground and on the horses (really want to ride a horse after watching the picture). I admire all the beautiful locations, the wild nature, and the empty valleys. The camera work (cinematography by Mauro Fiore) was excellent too: the close-ups really helped with the suspense, while the long tracking shots of people riding through frames (in color or in the shadow) were neatly used for transition. In addition, I enjoyed how the final stand-off of the film happened in the same place where everything had started – the church and its yard. The religious symbolism was also fitting, especially for the setting of 19th century US. Lastly, the instrumental score (music by James Horner and Simon Franglen) was excellent, while the credits rounded up the film beautifully.

Acting

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm was quite good. This wasn’t his best performance, but he worked well in the role. I liked how his character was introduced – we saw his guns before we saw his face. After working with Fuqua on 3 films already, Washington will re-team with the director for The Equalizer’s sequel – filming is supposed to start next year.
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday was also great – he was really charismatic and pulled off the jokes and the teases nicely. This was his follow-up to the uber successful Jurassic World and he did not disappoint me. I cannot wait for his upcoming films as well – Passengers just debuted its trailer and will be released during Christmas, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will roll into theaters next summer.
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was amazing too. I liked seeing Hawke, together with Denzel, in a Fuqua movie – reminded me of the Training Day days. Goodnight was kinda the voice of reason/rationality in the group – and Hawke just really knows how to nail this type of role. I’ve seen a lot of his films but my favorite still remains the Before trilogy. He will star in Luc Besson’s Valerian next year.
  • Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne was interesting and weird. The harsh outside look of his character really came into contrast with his inner softness and that squeaky-ish voice. I needed some time to get used to the voice, actually. I enjoyed seeing D’Onofrio in big Hollywood picture and I also think that he deserves to get a lot more prominent roles in mainstream films because he is a very good actor – if you need proof, watch Daredevil.
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez were also great. I liked how one was very calm and collected and the other kinda a hot-head. I am not really familiar with their previous work but would love to see more of them. 
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest was my favorite supporting character/actor. I loved his look and the fact that he had a traditional bow in a gunfight. I would really like to see some more films about/involving Native Americans, any suggestions?
  • Peter Sarsgaard played Bartholomew Bogue – the villain of the film. I liked how both menacing and cowardly he was. The actor also did a very good job of showing his character’s fear with his eyes. Recently, Sarsgaard had roles in films like Blue Jasmine, Pawn Sacrifice, and Black Mass. He will also be in the awards’ contender Jackie later this year.
  • Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen was also really good. I have only seen her in Hardcore Henry, where she didn’t have much to do, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance in this film. She pulled off her action scenes and the emotional sequences really well and will also star in The Girl on The Train in a few weeks.
  • Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Nice Guys) and Luke Grimes (American Sniper, Fifty Shades) also had small roles and did a fine job. In was nice to see Bomer in another flick – don’t know why he doesn’t get more role as he is really good at what he does. Grimes has two Fifty Shades movies coming up but I don’t think that hs character will get much to do in them.

In short, The Magnificent Seven was a well-made and nicely-acted typical Western. It was entertaining and intense and had an amazing and diverse cast. However, the narrative did lack originality.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Magnificent Seven trailer

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